Best described as a mix of sauna, aromatherapy and interpretive dance - this unconventional Danish sauna regime is what wellness aficionados and "gus master" practitioners, including Nicolai Solberg, swear by
It would be remiss to recommend the sauna as a radical form of relaxation. But, before you roll your eyes at being told a tired bromide - hear us out. The emerging Danish sauna variation “Saunagus” offers a novel approach through its unique combination of aromatherapy, breath-work, meditation and sauna to create an optimal relaxation experience.
Beyond its “best of both worlds” - or in this case, best of four worlds approach, whereby mutually beneficial wellness techniques are practised simultaneously for optimal results - its practitioners, better known as “gus master's", herald it as a powerful tool for building mental resilience. Nicolai Solberg, the lead gus master at the award-winning Danish spa hotel: Kurthotel Skodsborg, describes Saunagus as “life-changing”. Below, Solberg outlines the process, its health benefits and further champions its transformational impact on his clients and his everyday life.
Steaming, oil blends and guided meditation
According to Solberg, the process typically comprises of three steaming rounds, lasting approximately twelve to fifteen minutes. Within each round, either a singular or a blend of essential oils is mixed with water or ice and thrown over the hot stones. You guessed it - due to the heat, the liquid evaporates, and the therapeutic aroma infuses throughout the sauna. Once the oils have permeated the air, the “gus-master” leads a guided group meditation. Although each practitioner’s method may vary slightly, Solberg focuses on “encouraging you to relax your mind, your body and your muscles, through a combination of breathwork techniques and mindful engagement with the oils.”
Towel dancing is an essential part of the process
Now for the fun bit, where the “interpretive dance” reference comes into play. For the oils to spread evenly and be prevented from rising up too quickly, the gus master vigorously wafts around their towel. Solberg explains that, more often than not, this is performed in a free-spirited, endearingly eccentric manner, further adding to the atmospheric nature of saunagus.
Veering slightly off-topic, Solberg enthusiastically recalls that witnessing a gus master in action, wafting around their towel without constraint, was the original inspiration and catalyst prompting him to pursue saunagus. “Anders was waving a towel around in a session like a pizza maker tossing dough,” he recalls. “I thought, wow - I want to do that! Especially due to him being a former dancer - it was mesmerising, tossing it behind his back and between his legs in such fluid movements. I was captivated.”
Each singular round lasts four to five minutes, followed by new scents and blends in the subsequent two rounds. After twelve to fifteen minutes, people tend to pause for a short interval - with the most daring participants opting for a shock to the system cold plunge - before starting again. As a result of the repetition, an average saunagus can intermittently last for one to two hours.
Watching Anders, a retired dancer wave his towel around like a pizza maker...tossing it behind his back, between his legs in such fluid movements, I was captivated.
Photo: Kurhotel Skodsborg
The all important benefits
Due to the vast amounts of existing research into the positive impact of traditional saunas, Solberg doesn't broach the topic. However, a highly cited meta-review by Laukkanen conducted in 2018 adheres to Solberg's statement. The results found Finnish saunas were correlational to several health benefits, including reduced risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and neurocognitive diseases, as well as arthritis, headaches and flu. The research further states that these positive outcomes were found to link to improvements in circulatory, cardiovascular and immune function.
Nonetheless, Solberg is quick to reference aromatherapy and meditation's therapeutic effects. "The essential oils prompt the brain to release different chemicals that make us relax or have other calming, de-stressing, purifying and revitalising effects." A research article by Deborah Thomas further supports this idea, concluding that when inhaled, the aromas penetrate the bloodstream causing physiological changes that impact our limbic system, an area of the brain which controls our emotions and moods.
When speaking to the benefits of adding meditation and breath work, Solberg detailed how Danish saunagus differentiates from similar European "Aufguss" combination sauna experiences. "The Danish saunagus is more intimate, welcoming around fifteen to twenty people. Whereas "Aufguss" translating to "infusion" in German, another multi-sensory wellness ritual, is performed in larger groups and is popular in Germany, Poland and Holland."
Choice of scent matters
Solberg declares that when incorporating mindful breath work and prompting deep inhalation, gus masters' chosen scent highly depends on the desired outcome. "For relaxation: lavender, cedar wood and blood orange are great," he advocates. "Alternatively, when clients are looking for a revitalising energy boost, grapefruit, and eucalyptus are most efficacious."
When asked to expand upon this, he concludes, "The essential oils prompt the brain to release different chemicals that make us relax or have other calming, de-stressing, purifying and revitalising effects" - so safe to say scent matters. Quick to share his personal favourite, "undoubtedly blue chamomile, which evokes summer, pure joy and bliss." he enthused.
The final verdict
When asked the unequivocally all-important question of whether saunagus has helped his clients cope with stress, Solberg unflinchingly confirms. "It's been life-changing for me as a teacher and attendee," he rejoiced.
Referencing the physiological benefits, he raves about its ability to allow him to "experience and feel my bodily sensations in a different way," even divulging it helped him kick his caffeine addiction, "I am aware of myself and no longer require stimulants such as coffee, it has given me a new way to communicate with myself".
Talking specifically to its transformational impact on stress, he avidly notes, "I can now combat the fight or flight response which often leads to anxiety and depression due to handling stress and panic in high heat." Proudly relishing in his empowered emotional state, he comments, "I channel my feelings in a controlled manner, and it has given me a better way to deal with stress in all aspects of everyday life – which my clients also say! I now have the ability to take a deep breath and make well-thought-through choices as opposed to being reactive."
I channel my feelings in a controlled manner and it has given me a better way to deal with stress in all aspects of everyday life
Suppose that's not enough to convince you? Solberg teases that, due to confidentiality reasons, he cannot disclose the Scandi celebrities who are fans of this treatment. However, he divulges that "a notable Swedish singer" is a regular.
Whether or not the Danish Saunagus movement has piqued your interest or you prefer to approach new wellness trends with an element of scepticism, Nicolai Solberg makes a convincing case for adopting saunagus during stressful periods.